Typical beach vacations involve lazing around in the sunshine, catching up on a stack of novels and zig-zagging through crowds of half-naked strangers as you make your way to the waves. While there’s something to be said for relaxing on the beach with thousands of weary vacationers, we’d like to recommend a different scenario. The following American beaches will provide you with the same amount of sunshine without the throngs of people, as well as stellar opportunities for hiking, paddling, camping and spotting local wildlife.
Caladesi Island State Park, Florida
It stands to reason that the best and most secluded beaches are the hardest to get to. Caladesi Island, on Florida’s west coast, is one such treasure. You can only get there by boat, but if you don’t have a boat of your own, you can easily hop aboard the Caladesi Connection ferry for a four-hour visit. Caladesi Island isn’t all dunes and seashells, however. You’ll also find a 108-slip marina with electric hook-ups and a cafe, a picnic pavilion with grills and a small playground. Laying on the beach not your thing? Rent a kayak and explore the mangrove forest, hike the three-mile nature trail through mixed hardwoods or explore the remains of an old homestead.
Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
Another secluded beach on the Gulf Coast, Padre Island National Seashore is the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world, located on the outskirts of Corpus Christi, Texas. It’s well known as a popular birding destination and is home to five sea turtle species, including the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Primitive camping is available at five separate camping areas, but no reservations are accepted, and amenities are very limited. While visiting, be sure to check out the Laguna Madre, one of only six hypersaline lagoons on earth. Padre Island National Seashore is truly a wild beach destination, perfect for lovers of nature, solitude and adventure.
Channel Islands National Park, California
Located off the coast of Southern California is a cluster of five islands collectively known as the Channel Islands and managed by the National Park Service. Here you will find unique plant and animal species that have developed in isolation over the course of thousands of years. Each island in the Channel Islands has its own unique draws, from mountains and forests to sandy beaches and sea caves. You can access the islands via ferry boats from the mainland, as well as private boats and planes. You won’t find overnight accommodations or services, but primitive camping is allowed on all five of the islands. Channel Islands National Park is an ideal destination for active travelers, who come to for kayaking, surfing, fishing, diving, snorkeling, hiking and tidepooling along the rugged shores.
Montaña de Oro State Park, California
Escape the crowds and immerse yourself in the fabulous scenery of secluded Montaña de Oro State Park on the coast of California, between Los Angeles and San Francisco. This is one of the largest state parks in California, encompassing 8,000 acres and seven miles of undeveloped coastline. Primitive camping is available at 47 front-country campsites, or you can hike into more secluded spots. If hiking and backpacking is your thing, you’ll love exploring the many miles of trails, which hug the coastline, meander along streams and climb several peaks over a thousand feet high. Horses are welcome on many of the trails, but dogs are not. While this park sees more than half a million visitors a year, there is plenty of room to spread out in this beautifully wild landscape.
T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Memorial Peninsula State Park, Florida
The nine miles of sugary sand at T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park have been ranked among the most beautiful in the United States. Located on the Gulf of Mexico on the Florida Panhandle, St. Joseph is the perfect winter getaway for rest and relaxation. Take time to spread out on the beach, swim, snorkel, fish or paddle in the quiet waters. Be sure to meander along the sand dunes, which are some of the tallest in all of Florida. Kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, bicycles and beach gear are all available to rent, or you can trek through 1,750 acres of deserted beaches and coastal forest, which is home to an incredible array of birds and other wild critters. Over 100 campsites in two separate campgrounds can be reserved just a short walk from the beach, and primitive camping is permitted within the wilderness preserve.
If your idea of a perfect winter vacation includes tranquility and seclusion, along with sand in your toes and salt in your hair, then one of these wild American beaches may be just what you’re looking for.